The ring tone of an eighties song blares in my kitchen. I wait for my maid to take her call. Oblivious to the screechy song she continues to bang vessels. When I hand over the phone, she looks at the screen and smiles coyly. The screen says, 'Janu Calling'.
How Indian women address their partners in private or public is an interesting way of gauging the social climate. We have come a long way from 'Pinky ke papa' to 'Pumpkin', from 'Husband' to 'Honey Buns', and from 'Suniye' to 'Snuggle Bunny'. When it comes to naming the grandson, grandpa's writ still rules in most households, but nicknaming your husband is entirely your choice. Call him Baby or Baba, Chotu or Motu, as long as the connotations are positive, it is more about affection than gender dynamics.
Amusing how terms of endearment range from bakery items (pie, cookie, muffin) to stuffed toys (teddy, bunny, doll). And an argument at home is guaranteed if embarrassing nicknames get divulged in a formal setting. But the good part is that the argument gets downgraded to banter if Baby and Baba are thrown in for good measure.
When it comes to public communication, most urban women are either on a first name basis or something generic on the lines of Sweety or Honey. But when the moniker for your husband is something like 'Darling' with the D pronounced as duh, you could be accused of faking it. Or drinking too much.
On a personal note, I'm not sure if it was a 'government servant' protocol or a norm, but back in the eighties, my mother used to refer to her friends as Mrs. X or Mrs. Y. So today when she calls her friends by their first name, it sounds a bit odd to the ear, but pleasant to the mind. Also, I don't remember my mother taking dad's first name. Their personal communication was bereft of honey bunny stuff. Thank Lord for that because as a kid I would die of embarrassment had she suffixed 'doo-buns-pie' in public.
One reason behind the present informality could be the lessening age gap between couples. Moreover, informal terms of affection signify a healthy relationship. Beyond all this, there is a desire to be a part of everything that is contemporary.
Equally interesting is how women save the numbers of their spouses on their mobiles. A random survey revealed that my friends store the first name, hubby or husband for their married partners. I make it a point to suffix 'husband' after his name, purely as a safety measure. In case of an unlikely abduction, the abductors should know whom to call for ransom.
Overall, this idiosyncratic communication using nicknames or first names signifies a healthy shift in a patriarchal setup. The fact that a name plate once displayed the name of the male member, now displays the first names of the residing couple is also a small but significant step.
So I ask my house help how she addresses her husband at home. "I can't take his name, my mother-in-law disapproves," she says.
It takes a generation to understand that when your spouse calls you by a nickname or real name, the idea is to express love. It has nothing to do with gender dynamics.
This post is originally on Freebird.